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RGS-IBG Book Series

For further information about the series and a full list of published and forthcoming titles please visit


Cryptic Concrete: A Subterranean Journey Into Cold War Germany
Ian Klinke

Work‐Life Advantage: Sustaining Regional Learning and Innovation
Al James

Pathological Lives: Disease, Space and Biopolitics
Steve Hinchliffe, Nick Bingham, John Allen and Simon Carter

Smoking Geographies: Space, Place and Tobacco
Ross Barnett, Graham Moon, Jamie Pearce, Lee Thompson and Liz Twigg

Rehearsing the State: The Political Practices of the Tibetan Government‐in‐Exile
Fiona McConnell

Nothing Personal? Geographies of Governing and Activism in the British Asylum System
Nick Gill

Articulations of Capital: Global Production Networks and Regional Transformations
John Pickles and Adrian Smith, with Robert Begg, Milan Bucˇek, Poli Roukova and Rudolf Pástor

Metropolitan Preoccupations: The Spatial Politics of Squatting in Berlin
Alexander Vasudevan

Everyday Peace? Politics, Citizenship and Muslim Lives in India
Philippa Williams

Assembling Export Markets: The Making and Unmaking of Global Food Connections in West Africa
Stefan Ouma

Africa’s Information Revolution: Technical Regimes and Production Networks in South Africa and Tanzania
James T. Murphy and Pádraig Carmody

Origination: The Geographies of Brands and Branding
Andy Pike

In the Nature of Landscape: Cultural Geography on the Norfolk Broads
David Matless

Geopolitics and Expertise: Knowledge and Authority in European Diplomacy
Merje Kuus

Everyday Moral Economies: Food, Politics and Scale in Cuba
Marisa Wilson

Material Politics: Disputes Along the Pipeline
Andrew Barry

Fashioning Globalisation: New Zealand Design, Working Women and the Cultural Economy
Maureen Molloy and Wendy Larner

Working Lives – Gender, Migration and Employment in Britain, 1945–2007
Linda McDowell

Dunes: Dynamics, Morphology and Geological History
Andrew Warren

Spatial Politics: Essays for Doreen Massey
Edited by David Featherstone and Joe Painter

The Improvised State: Sovereignty, Performance and Agency in Dayton Bosnia
Alex Jeffrey

Learning the City: Knowledge and Translocal Assemblage
Colin McFarlane

Globalizing Responsibility: The Political Rationalities of Ethical Consumption
Clive Barnett, Paul Cloke, Nick Clarke and Alice Malpass

Domesticating Neo‐Liberalism: Spaces of Economic Practice and Social Reproduction in Post‐Socialist Cities
Alison Stenning, Adrian Smith, Alena Rochovská and Dariusz świątek

Swept Up Lives? Re‐envisioning the Homeless City
Paul Cloke, Jon May and Sarah Johnsen

Aerial Life: Spaces, Mobilities, Affects
Peter Adey

Millionaire Migrants: Trans‐Pacific Life Lines David Ley

State, Science and the Skies: Governmentalities of the British Atmosphere
Mark Whitehead

Complex Locations: Women’s geographical work in the UK 1850–1970
Avril Maddrell

Value Chain Struggles: Institutions and Governance in the Plantation Districts of South India
Jeff Neilson and Bill Pritchard

Queer Visibilities: Space, Identity and Interaction in Cape Town
Andrew Tucker

Arsenic Pollution: A Global Synthesis
Peter Ravenscroft, Hugh Brammer and Keith Richards

Resistance, Space and Political Identities: The Making of Counter‐Global Networks
David Featherstone

Mental Health and Social Space: Towards Inclusionary Geographies?
Hester Parr

Climate and Society in Colonial Mexico: A Study in Vulnerability
Georgina H. Endfield

Geochemical Sediments and Landscapes
Edited by David J. Nash and Sue J. McLaren

Driving Spaces: A Cultural‐Historical Geography of England’s M1 Motorway
Peter Merriman

Badlands of the Republic: Space, Politics and Urban Policy
Mustafa Dikeç

Geomorphology of Upland Peat: Erosion, Form and Landscape Change
Martin Evans and Jeff Warburton

Spaces of Colonialism: Delhi’s Urban Governmentalities
Stephen Legg

Rhys Jones

Publics and the City
Kurt Iveson

After the Three Italies: Wealth, Inequality and Industrial Change
Mick Dunford and Lidia Greco

Putting Workfare in Place
Peter Sunley, Ron Martin and Corinne Nativel

Domicile and Diaspora
Alison Blunt

Geographies and Moralities
Edited by Roger Lee and David M. Smith

Military Geographies
Rachel Woodward

A New Deal for Transport?
Edited by Iain Docherty and Jon Shaw

Geographies of British Modernity
Edited by David Gilbert, David Matless and Brian Short

Lost Geographies of Power
John Allen

Globalizing South China
Carolyn L. Cartier

Geomorphological Processes and Landscape Change: Britain in the Last 1000 Years
Edited by David L. Higgitt and E. Mark Lee

Cryptic Concrete

A Subterranean Journey Into Cold War Germany



Ian Klinke








Series Editor’s Preface

The RGS‐IBG Book Series only publishes work of the highest international standing. Its emphasis is on distinctive new developments in human and physical geography, although it is also open to contributions from cognate disciplines whose interests overlap with those of geographers. The Series places strong emphasis on theoretically informed and empirically strong texts. Reflecting the vibrant and diverse theoretical and empirical agendas that characterise the contemporary discipline, contributions are expected to inform, challenge and stimulate the reader. Overall, the RGS‐IBG Book Series seeks to promote scholarly publications that leave an intellectual mark and change the way readers think about particular issues, methods or theories.

For details on how to submit a proposal please visit:

David Featherstone
University of Glasgow, UK

RGS‐IBG Book Series Editor


It must have been in 1990 when I found out that the hill behind my friend’s sandpit was hollow, perhaps so hollow that it could swallow an entire army. What lay beneath the vineyards was a secret, but it was one that was passed on from child to child. The story that circulated amongst us was one of a subterranean city with streets and lanterns, buses and cars, bakeries and sweet shops, as well as tanks, missiles and soldiers. My friend and I gazed with enthralment at the barbed wire, the guards and the watchtowers, behind which we correctly suspected lay the entrance to this secret underworld. It made me feel uncomfortable – and yet my imagination was drawn to it. As we dug holes deep into the sandpit for our plastic soldiers, missiles and tanks, we lost ourselves in geopolitical fantasy. We were child strategists, subterranean generals, standing tall at the end of history.

Of course, the meaning of the events that brought an end to the Cold War had not been lost on us. The political excitement was palpable, the feeling of cultural superiority overpowering – even for an eight‐year‐old. Soon, our television set would show a city plunged into an extravagant display of green fireworks. This city was Bagdad and the green light was the flickering of the Iraqi anti‐aircraft guns in their attempt to resist the world’s sole remaining superpower. It was a truly captivating display of power – though it was ultimately as intangible as the nuclear explosion I had once seen in an American film. I found it difficult to relate to on a personal level. The West German government’s nuclear bunker behind my friend’s house, however, was something much more concrete and tangible. The bunker felt so real, even though it was so well concealed. It seemed to be mine, even though it was never made for mere mortals like me. For me, this concrete survival shell was a forbidden land of plenty and a place of salvation, a place where my fantasies were safe. This secret and sacred space was uncanny – unheimlich – in the Freudian sense of something that is both alien and familiar, repulsive and attractive.

The social theorist Paul Virilio has argued that bunkers have functioned as underground places of security, hidden and forbidden places, ‘as in the English word, cryptic’ (Virilio, in Armitage 2009: 23). Reflecting on German air‐shelters that were converted into churches, he has suggested that ‘these places of shelter from danger, and places of worship, [] are also places of salvation’ (ibid.). As in the stone chambers beneath Christian churches, death has a haunting presence in the nuclear bunker. The bunker is an ambivalent space, both ‘shelter’ and ‘grave’ (Bennett 2011a: 156), ‘womb’ and ‘tomb’ (Beck 2011: 82). Part of this ambivalence may be inherent in the very material of which most bunkers are made. As Adrian Forty (2012: 169) puts it:

Concrete is a base material. Its dense mass lends it to the resistance of forces, whether natural or man‐made. Good for foundations, sea defences, fortifications, nuclear shields, anywhere that monolithic inertness is called for, this quality puts it low down in the hierarchy of materials. At the same time, though, concrete has from its earliest days appealed to church builders.

Forty reminds us that despite its ability to withstand tremendous forces, concrete holds an ambiguous position between the modern and traditional, cultural and natural. Notwithstanding its success in the twentieth century, concrete is neither a modern creation (for its use by humans dates back thousands of years) nor indeed a purely cultural phenomenon (it does exist in natural form despite being rare as such). Concrete, in other words, is difficult to categorise – it almost wants to be interpreted.

Twenty‐five years later, I understand why the bunker and its surroundings had exerted such a strong attraction on me, for the infantile war game that I had once played behind my friend’s house had a very particular personal significance. From an early age I had been forbidden to play with toy soldiers and other such ‘symbols of militarism’. Mine was a life without the symbols of boyish masculinity. In my school friend’s house, right next to the government’s nuclear bunker, however, the rules were different and I was able to indulge in war games of all sorts, from the positioning of plastic tanks in a sandpit to more elaborate strategy games. I knew I had to remain silent about this forbidden form of enjoyment when I returned home – but this did not in any way compromise my guilty pleasure. Only decades later, when I started to develop an academic interest in the site that lay behind the sandpit, did I find out that there had been similar subterranean and forbidden games going on underneath our playground. For every two years, the West German state would lock up its political and military elites underground so that they could play the apocalypse. I now understand that these games were in fact driven by an obsessive politics of earth and life.

Geopolitics, the politics of earth, was first developed at the turn of the twentieth century as a geographical theory about state behaviour. It posited that states needed to conquer and dominate political space if they wanted to survive in a competitive international environment. In Germany, this geographical discourse was crucial in legitimating the Third Reich’s invasion of the Soviet Union and the conquest of living space in Eastern Europe. Geopolitics was always intertwined with biopolitics (the politics of life), the belief that the state should be understood as an organism that struggles for survival. The Third Reich’s extermination of unwanted populations became possible only by branding some groups as cancerous cells within this organism. These two forms of power were linked in many ways, but most crucially in the fantasy of conquering Lebensraum (living space) in Eastern Europe. This fantasy, or so I argue in this book, did not simply vanish with the demise of the Third Reich but took on a new form. In order to understand this fully, we need to grapple not just with the strategic discourses of the Cold War but with the violent architecture of the atomic age itself.

This book then prompts us to reassess the history of geo‐ and biopolitics by exposing the ways in which the Cold War reproduced and inverted the spaces of survival and extermination that had emerged in and through World War II. In an attempt to understand the material architecture that was designed to protect and take life in nuclear war, I explore two types of structure that stood at the vanishing point of geo‐ and biopolitics – the nuclear bunker and the atomic missile site. Analysing a broad range of archival sources through the lens of critical theory, I argue for an appreciation of the two subterranean structures’ complementary nature. Following Eyal Weizman, I approach architecture as solidified political forces, or ‘politics in matter’, matter that we can study through its form and ornamentation, as well as the organisation and infrastructure that enables and sustains it (Weizman 2007: 5–7). The architects of these violent geographies are thus the military strategists, engineers, civil defence planners and politicians of the Cold War state. But unlike Weizman (2002: 2), who sees geopolitics as a ‘flat discourse’ which fails to comprehend the three‐dimensionality of modern warfare, I argue that these male strategists, and they are almost exclusively men, were already animated by the idea that Cold War geopolitics had to be fought in three‐dimensional space, specifically, of course, in subterranea.

By examining the politics of nuclear weapons in West Germany in both an intellectual and an architectural register, Cryptic Concrete thus makes a tentative step in the direction of a biopolitics of the Cold War, an issue that was recently proposed by Collier and Lakoff (2015; see also Klinke 2015). The book also seeks to contribute to recent and ongoing debates on the materiality of geopolitics by interweaving the analysis of material forms with an examination of geo‐ and biopolitical thought, revealing how military architecture remained in dialogue with these ideas even after they had been proclaimed dead.

The Federal Republic of Germany is an excellent starting point for any such investigation because of the country’s role as a designated battlefield in the case of a war with the Warsaw Pact. After joining NATO in 1955, Bonn participated in and drove the alliance towards a policy of hard‐line nuclear deterrence. This policy and the subsequent nuclearisation of West German territory meant that the country permanently played with the idea of national suicide in ways that invoked in unambiguous terms the final days of the Third Reich. Indeed, the West German examples can be used to illustrate some of the historical continuities between the fascist and the Cold War state, not least because there was a vast overlap of personnel, ideology and military technology before and after 1945. By looking at Germany, the book attempts to turn academic debates on military landscapes away from their Anglo‐American bias to reveal the shared origins of fascist and Cold War geopolitics. Through tracing the emergence of the Cold War, I hope we can learn to appreciate that ‘the detonation of the first atomic bomb’ did perhaps not mark ‘the end of one kind of time, and the apotheosis of another’ (Masco 2006: 1). Rather than ‘explod[ing] experiences of time [and] undermining the logics of the nation‐state’ (ibid.: 12), the West German Cold War state found new ways of articulating a very familiar biopolitical modernity in which the state fostered some forms of life and abandoned others, valorising some deaths and failing to remember others. In West Germany, the technological move from Dresden to Hiroshima, or what Peter Sloterdijk (2009: 57) calls the shift from thermoterrorism to radioterrorism, was in fact framed through and organised around similar leitmotifs as Nazi geo‐ and biopolitics, including the latter’s obsession with questions of survival and extermination.

Despite its ambition of contributing to theorisations of both geo‐ and biopolitics, this is also of course a book about Germany. Cryptic Concrete is intended for readers who want to understand the history and politics of the West German state, which remains of course the legal basis for a reunified Germany. This book is not, however, in any way meant to form a comprehensive study of German Cold War history, nor does it claim to have unearthed any particular sites that were previously unknown to the public. Instead, it sets out to re‐read Germany’s nuclear landscapes through critical theories of geo‐ and biopolitics. In doing so, the book is foremost a geographical one that tries to understand how ideas about space, power and survival, developed by the likes of Friedrich Ratzel and Karl Haushofer in the late nineteenth and first part of the twentieth century, managed to survive the demise of National Socialism. It tells the story of how the proto‐fascist idea of the state as an organism produced particular architectural forms, not just in the Third Reich but also during the Cold War.

The starting point and underlying assumption of this book is that power operates in material as much as ideational ways. Rather than abandoning the study of geopolitical traditions alongside the overly textual focus that marked political geography during the 1990s, Cryptic Concrete tries to develop more imaginative ways of thinking with and against the geopolitical tradition. In doing so, it starts from the premise that whilst the study of geopolitical texts has a tendency to be merely ‘parasitic’ upon a particular form of writing (Ó Tuathail 1996: 53), more recent scholarship, which has tried to rethink geopolitics along ‘more‐than‐human’ lines, often loses sight of its object of study. Whilst the former runs into the danger of being only concerned with the ‘mummified’ remains of what was once an influential mode of thought (Ó Tuathail & Dalby 1998: 2), the latter either treats geopolitics as a mere synonym for global politics or develops a conception of geopolitics that is strangely detached from any previous understandings of the term. Instead, this book tries to fuse the study of geopolitical traditions with the study of the ways in which geopolitics is forged through the built environment and imprinted onto the human body. It is thus interested in the places in which geopolitical subjects are formed.

In doing so, a few words of caution are imperative. Whilst the book does feature a detailed discussion of geopolitical thinkers, I neither wish to reduce the history of geopolitics to the ideas of important men (for this critique, see Sharp 2000a: 363) nor do I intend to overstate their direct influence on political events. Rather, I would like to argue that we can find an obsession with spaces of national survival and extinction – which was first powerfully articulated through German geopolitics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – in the military landscapes of the Cold War. Geo‐ and biopolitics, in other words, managed to survive despite having been proclaimed dead, a resilience I have described elsewhere as ‘undead’ (Klinke 2011: 719; see also MacDonald in Jones & Sage 2010). In this way, then, the book is meant as a provocation to reconsider the politics of nuclear war through notions of geo‐ and biopolitics. This, I feel, is necessary because the Cold War is often regarded today as a historical absurdity with little relevance for the contemporary world. It is especially phenomena such as bunker tourism that often deny ‘the origins of these sites in periods of deep ideological violence, ruination and trauma’ (Graham 2016: 359). In her history of the US intercontinental missile ‘Minuteman’, Gretchen Heefner remarks:

We are told that nuclear deterrence is no longer our bulwark against global conflict. We have stepped back from the precipice. Our children no longer wake from nightmares about thermonuclear war. Our contemporary nuclear fear, a dirty bomb or rogue nuke, is of a different variety, less cataclysmic. The massive armaments of deterrence do not make sense in the age of global terror. Not even the people of South Dakota who lived for so long with the Minutemen seem to want to tell the missiles’ stories. But these silences and spaces are as misleading as the quiet that fell over the missile fields during the Cold War’.

(Heefner 2012: 4)

Heefner continues by noting that around half of the Minuteman missiles that were deployed in the 1960s remain in service today, ‘still capable of reaching targets around the world as quickly as you could have a pizza delivered to your door’ (ibid.: 5). But it is not simply necessary to be aware of the continued presence of nuclear weapons. It is also important to understand them as embedded within geopolitical logics that to some degree predate these weapons. If we want to make sense of the missile silo and its counterpart, the bunker, then we need to take seriously the history of German geopolitics, a story that did not, as sometimes assumed, simply end in 1945, for the fantasy of conquering Lebensraum managed to survive precisely by going underground.

This book is informed by over nine years of research on German geopolitics and the Cold War. The empirical research was conducted during my postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford (2013–2015) and I should therefore like to thank the School of Geography and the Environment for giving me the opportunity to pursue this project. The book was finished after I had taken up an Associate Professorship at the University of Oxford, in association with St John’s College.

It is difficult to acknowledge everyone who has had an input into this book. Key interlocutors have included the like‐minded bunker enthusiasts Brad Garrett (University of Sydney), Luke Bennett (Sheffield Hallam) and Silvia Berger‐Ziauddin (Universität Zürich), fellow researchers of geopolitics such as Mark Bassin (Södertörn Högskola) and Gonzalo Pozo (King’s College London), the architectural historian David Haney (University of Kent) as well as my old friends Ludek Stavinoha (University of East Anglia) and Caspar Richter. I would like to thank in particular my colleagues Gruia Badescu, Maan Barua (now University of Cambridge), Colin Clarke, Patricia Daley, Joe Gerlach (now University of Bristol), Britain Hopkins, Derek McCormack, Fiona McConnell, Tim Hodgetts, Craig Jeffrey (now at the Australia‐India Institute), Thomas Jellis, Kärg Kama, Judith Pallot, Brice Perombelon and Tim Schwanen for feedback and more general discussion on the themes of this book. I am especially indebted to the input and support I have received from my colleagues Linda McDowell and Richard Powell (now University of Cambridge). The seeds for the project were planted during my time at University College London, where in 2011 I completed my PhD, examined by Klaus Dodds (Royal Holloway) and Chris Browning (University of Warwick), and where I subsequently held a teaching position. At UCL I would in particular like to thank my former supervisor Felix Ciută for various forms of support and particularly for debate on the politics of war games. My thanks also go to Jason Dittmer (also UCL) for discussions on geopolitical architecture (and for co‐editing the book series Geopolitical Bodies, Material Worlds with me at Rowman and Littlefield) and to Alan Ingram (also UCL) for prompting me to think about the interface of geo‐ and biopolitics in the first place.

I am particularly grateful for a close reading of my third chapter to Christian Abrahamsson (Universitetet i Oslo), Lucian Ashworth (Memorial University of Newfoundland), Andrew Barry (University College London), Audra Mitchell (Wilfrid Laurier University) and David T. Murphy (Anderson University) at the 2016 ISRF workshop on ‘New earth thinking’, organised by Richard Powell at Girton College, Cambridge. I have hugely benefitted from discussion at the 2015 European International Studies Association (EISA) conference in Giardini‐Naxos, the 2014 and 2016 annual international conference of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS‐IBG) in London, the 2014 regional conference of the International Geographical Union (IGU), the 2014 and 2015 annual conventions of the International Studies Association (ISA) in Toronto and New Orleans as well as seminars and workshops in Birmingham, Fulda, London, Oxford, Potsdam, Uppsala and Sheffield. I have enjoyed the support of a number of very helpful archivists at the Federal Archives in Koblenz and the German Military Archives in Freiburg and would particularly like to mention Doris Hauschke at the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records in Berlin. I have also benefitted greatly from conversations with Jörg Diester at Dokumentionsstätte Regierungsbunker and am very happy to have received the right to print the two images of camp Bellersdorf from Bernd Donsbach at Traditionsverband Aartalkaserne. All other images used in the book are my own. Before I forget, I should probably mention my students at St John’s and Jesus College (particularly Harry Gibbs), with whom I have had the chance to debate various aspects of the material covered in Cryptic Concrete, and I am indebted also to two anonymous referees for the comments and suggestions and to the editor of the RGS‐IBG series at Wiley, Dave Featherstone (University of Glasgow), for his help and patience.1 All translations from the German are my own.

Last but certainly not least, I am particularly grateful for the support I have received from Anna (Toropova) who has been an absolute star in ways, academic and non‐academic, that are too many to list here. I would also like to thank my family, particularly Lizzie, Jost, Gerlinde and Klaus. This book is dedicated to my mother Linda (1953–2011).